Paul Tanaka

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Paul K. Tanaka
Undersheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
In office
June 2011 – August 1, 2013
Preceded by Larry L Waldie
Assistant Sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
In office
January 7, 2005 – June 2011
Serving with R. Doyle Campbell
Succeeded by Marvin O. Cavanaugh and Cecil W. Rhambo
Mayor Pro Tem of Gardena
In office
March 2003 – April 2004
Mayor of Gardena
In office
March 2005 – April 2016
Personal details
Born 1959 (1959) (age 59)
Gardena, California, U.S.
Spouse(s) Valerie Tanaka
Alma mater Loyola Marymount University (B.A. Accounting)
[dead link]

Paul K. Tanaka is an American former politician and a former law-enforcement officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. He was convicted April 4, 2016, in Federal Court of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. Tanaka served as Undersheriff of Los Angeles County from 2011 to 2013. He was also mayor of the City of Gardena, California. His tenure has provoked controversy due to allegations of violence and corruption.

Personal life[edit]

Tanaka was born at the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles.[1] At the age of 7, he and his family moved to Gardena, where he lived for 47 years.[1]

Tanaka received an accounting degree from Loyola Marymount University and is also a Certified Public Accountant.[2] He serves as Chief Financial Officer for the Go For Broke Foundation and the East West Players, and serves on the board of the Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law.

Tanaka is married to Valerie Tanaka, with whom he has 2 children.[2]

Elected official[edit]

Tanaka has been active in local government since his election to the Gardena city council in March 1999. In March 2005, he was elected mayor with 62% of the vote.[3] He was re-elected to a second term in 2009.[3][4]

Law enforcement[edit]

A career law enforcement officer, Tanaka initially joined the El Segundo police department in 1980. Transferring to the LA County Sheriff's Department (LASD) two years later, he rose through the ranks, earning his stripes in 1987, and making Lieutenant in 1991. Tanaka then rose from Lieutenant to Captain in 1999, Commander in 2001 and Chief in 2002.[5] From January 7, 2005, to June 2011, he was an Assistant Sheriff.[6] He is the first Japanese American in the position.

He has been criticized for his affiliation with the Lynwood Vikings, a secret police organization and white supremacist gang brought to light amidst police misconduct litigation in 1990.[7] Sheriff Lee Baca acknowledged Tanaka still has a tattoo related to the group, which a federal judge described as a "neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang."[8][9] Tanaka was tattooed as a member of the Vikings deputy gang in 1987, while serving as a deputy at the Lynwood station.[10]

On March 7, 1988, Tanaka was involved in a controversial killing of an unarmed Korean American in Long Beach, sparking outrage among Korean American community leaders.[11]

Los Angeles County Undersheriff (2011-2013)[edit]

Tanaka was appointed Undersheriff, the second-in-command at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in June 2011 by Sheriff Lee Baca.[12] During his 2-year term as Undersheriff, the Department was dogged with several controversies. He announced his resignation on March 6, 2013.[13][14]


On October 18, 2011, at a Board meeting, Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas held a motion to create a Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence with the mandate of reviewing the nature, depth and cause of Sheriff’s deputies’ inappropriate use of excessive force in County jails and to recommend corrective actions.[15] In early 2011, the FBI launched an undercover probe at the Men's Central Jail, to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse.[16][17] The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division also launched a wide-scale pattern and practice investigation into allegations that Antelope Valley deputies discriminated against minority residents who receive government housing assistance.[18]

During his tenure as Undersheriff, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Sheriff Lee Baca and top commanders, including Tanaka, for perpetuating a long-standing, widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the county jails.[19]

In September 2012, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence issued a final report that is very critical of the Sheriff Department’s management, including Baca, Tanaka and other executive-level staff, accusing them of fostering a culture in which deputies beat and humiliated inmates, covered up misconduct and formed aggressive deputy cliques in the county jails. This despite the fact that Tanaka was not in charge of the jails, but the Department's Patrol Division and its budget.[20][21][22] The report also called for the removal of Tanaka from the chain of command supervising the jail system, for statements that Tanaka had delivered, indicating that deputies could use excessive force against prisoners and that aggressive behavior would not result in discipline.[22] The report also noted that Tanaka had accepted campaign contributions from many department employees, furthering perceptions of patronage and favoritism in promotion and assignment decisions.[22]

On March 6, 2013, Tanaka announced that he would retire as the Undersheriff, effective August 1, 2013, during an ongoing federal probe conducted by the FBI into widespread allegations of abuse, misconduct and mismanagement in County jails.[23] Although his decision to resign was portrayed as being under his volition, Baca told Tanaka to step down because Tanaka had become a political liability.[24]

Plot to hide informant[edit]

The plot to derail the federal investigation of the LASD supposedly began in August 2011, when Sheriff deputies retrieved a mobile phone from an inmate at Men’s Central Jail and were able to connect the phone to the FBI. Discovering that the inmate-turned-FBI informant was Anthony Brown, deputies had purposely hidden Brown from his FBI handlers, by moving him around different jails and changing Brown's name.[25]

Criminal charges[edit]

On May 13, 2015, Tanaka was indicted on federal conspiracy and obstruction charges in the ongoing Los Angeles County Men's Jail corruptions investigation.[25][26] Tanaka was the eighth LASD official to be criminal charged based on actions taken in the summer of 2011.[25]


On April 6, 2016, Tanaka was convicted on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges by a federal jury in a case presided over by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson.[27] "The criminal charges centered on allegations that in 2011 Tanaka orchestrated a scheme to derail the FBI's jail investigation by intimidating the lead agent in the case, pressuring deputies not to cooperate and concealing the whereabouts of an inmate who was working as a federal informant."[28] As a result, Councilman Mark E. Henderson was appointed Mayor Pro Tem and served as acting Mayor until the March 2017 election.[29]


On June 27, 2016, Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison, for civil rights abuses inside the nation's largest urban jail system. He was also sentenced to serve two years of supervised release after he is discharged from prison and pay a $7,500 fine. He faced a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.[30] Tanaka planned to file a motion to sidestep his Aug. 1 jail surrender deadline and remain out on bail while he appeals his conviction. He surrendered Monday, January 16, 2017, to federal authorities in Colorado to begin serving the prison sentence at a minimum-security camp in Englewood, Colorado.[31]

2014 Sheriff's campaign[edit]

On August 15, 2013, Tanaka announced his candidacy to unseat his former boss, Lee Baca, as the Sheriff in the 2014 election.[32][33] Tanaka lost the election to Jim McDonnell, McDonnell received 49.4 percent of the vote and Tanaka received 15.1 percent to come in second.[34]

See also[edit]

  • Lee Baca, Sheriff over Tanaka, also convicted in relation to abuses in the jail system.


  1. ^ a b Simmonds, Yussuf (5 March 2009). "Mayor of Gardena Wins a Second Term". Los Angeles Sentinel. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "PAUL TANAKA, UNDERSHERIFF". LASD Executive Photos & Bios:. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Archived from the original on 17 May 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Mayor Tanaka". Elected Officials. City of Gardena. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Mazza, Sandy; Washicko, Cynthia (March 7, 2017). "Election 2017: Rachel Johnson takes razor-thin Gardena mayoral victory; two newcomers top City Council field". The Daily Breeze. Retrieved 12 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "County Facing Cuts to Budget; After forecasting a shortfall of $205 million in the general fund, the top official today will introduce a plan for a leaner 2003-04", Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2003
  6. ^ "PAUL K. TANAKA PROMOTED TO ASSISTANT SHERIFF". Press Releases. Los Angeles County Sheriff. 7 January 2005. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Sullivan, Rob (2014). Street Level: Los Angeles in the Twenty-First Century. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 23–4. 
  8. ^ "Secret clique in L.A. County sheriff's gang unit probed". Los Angeles Times. 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  9. ^ Faturechi, Robert (9 May 2012). "Tattoo in sheriff's deputy clique may have celebrated shootings, sources say". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  10. ^ O'Connor, Anne-Marie; Tina Daunt (24 March 1999). "The Secret Society Among Lawmen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Arax, Mark (17 March 1988). "Cries of Bias Follow Death of Korean at Hands of Law". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  12. ^ "Paul Tanaka Appointed to Undersheriff". Sheriff's Department. County of Los Angeles. June 2011. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  13. ^ Leonard, Jack; Robert Faturechi (6 March 2013). "L.A. County sheriff's No. 2 leader to quit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "Downfall". Los Angeles Magazine. February 26, 2014. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Motion by Supervisors Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas" (PDF). Board of Supervisors. County of Los Angeles. 18 October 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  16. ^ Hayes, Rob (27 September 2011). "Sheriff Baca meets with feds over FBI jails investigation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  17. ^ Faturechi, Robert (25 September 2011). "FBI probing reports of beatings in L.A. County jails". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  18. ^ Faturechi, Robert (29 September 2011). "L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca gives details of FBI sting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  19. ^ "ACLU Lawsuit Charges Los Angeles County Sheriff with Condoning Pattern of Deputy-on-Inmate Violence". American Civil Liberties Union. 18 January 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Tanaka, Paul. "Tanaka answers critics". Los Cerritos News. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  21. ^ Stoltze, Frank (26 July 2012). "LA jail violence commission turns attention to undersheriff Paul Tanaka". KPCC. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c "Report of the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence" (PDF). Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. County of Los Angeles. September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  23. ^ "Press Release – Undersheriff Retires". Sheriff’s Department. County of Los Angeles. 6 March 2013. Archived from the original on 4 July 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  24. ^ Faturechi, Robert; Jack Leonard (25 March 2013). "Baca told aide to retire". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  25. ^ a b c Bartley, Lisa (May 13, 2015). "LASD's Paul Tanaka, Tom Carey indicted for obstructing FBI investigation". ABC7. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Ex-Undersheriff Tanaka Convicted on Conspiracy and Obstruction Charges". LAist. Archived from the original on 15 May 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  28. ^ "Tanaka convicted on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges". Los Angeles Times. 6 April 2016. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ City News Service (June 27, 2016). "Former Undersheriff Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison". NBCUniversal Media, LLC. Retrieved June 28, 2016. 
  31. ^
  32. ^ Faturechi, Robert; Seema Mehta (14 August 2013). "Ousted top aide to challenge Sheriff Lee Baca". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  33. ^ Villacorte, Christina (15 August 2013). "L.A. Sheriff's former #2 man, Paul Tanaka, vies for top job". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  34. ^ Orlov, Rick (November 14, 2014). "Election 2014: Jim McDonnell defeats Paul Tanaka to become Los Angeles County Sheriff". LA Daily News. Retrieved 28 June 2016.